(October 7, 2014) Princeton, N.J -- Autism Speaks hosted the first in a series of Town Halls on Adult Services focusing on housing and community living. The New Jersey Chapter of Autism Speaks, led by executive director Dina Schwab, organized the meeting at Mercer County Community College in West Windsor Township, NJ. Adults with autism and their families joined adult service providers, supportive housing developers and other stakeholders in a dynamic discussion about the challenges and opportunities currently facing this population. There was a focus on leveraging the housing opportunities that exist in the state with affordable, supportive housing, housing tax credits, housing vouchers, housing trust funds and the coordination of integrated services for adults with autism.
Following a resource fair featuring different adult service providers from around the state, a panel of experts shared their perspectives on the housing challenge – and proposed some potential solutions. The panelists included: Tom Toronto, President of Bergen County’s United Way; Jamie Douglas, Managing Director for Adult Services at Eden Autism Services; Gail Levinson, Executive Director of the Supportive Housing Association of New Jersey (SHANJ); and Samantha and Christine Ranaghan, an adult with autism and her mother. Samantha shared about the difficulties she has faced maintaining employment and living on her own, despite earning a master’s degree. “I really only would need help with things like my finances and paying my bills,” she explained. “And with socializing, because I tend to like to just stay inside all of the time.”
Maria McGinley, advocacy chair of the New Jersey Chapter of Autism Speaks, moderated the panel discussion. “Individuals with autism need a variety of interconnected supports to live independently in the community,” she said. “These supports are the ones that address the needs that every adult has: health, housing, employment, social participation, education, financial stability and family well-being. Individuals with autism are valuable members of our community and should have the same independence and self-determination that are fundamental American values all citizens are afforded. It’s about getting them this support when, where and how they need it.”
Each of the town hall participants signed onto the Autism Speaks Champions campaign and committed to engage in local and state advocacy efforts to increase housing options and supports on a grassroots level. As New Jersey develops modifications to its Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) programs, Autism Speaks feels strongly that the state must hear from the individuals directly affected. Individuals who are waiting for services and individuals currently receiving services must let New Jersey officials know what their needs are and what they state should do to make sure they are as integrated in the community as possible.